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So, how is Boise doing with those ambitious carbon neutral goals?

Boise's Climate Action goals are for a carbon neutral government by 2035 and a carbon neutral community by 2050.
City of Boise, 123RF
Boise's Climate Action goals are for a carbon neutral government by 2035 and a carbon neutral community by 2050.

There were more than a handful of skeptics when the City of Boise announced that city operations would be carbon neutral by 2035 and the entire city would be carbon neutral by 2050. But city officials are electrifying more buildings and vehicles and conserving more limited resources, getting them closer to the carbon neutral reality.

“We finished three buildings last year. I think we have four more buildings slated for this year,” said Steve Burgos, Director of Public Works for the City of Boise. “We're up to, I believe, five all-electric trash trucks in the public services fleet with the intention of adding more in the coming years. Any vehicle that we add to the fleet at the city has a viable all-electric alternative, We're making really good progress and it's really important that we do this now.”

Burgos visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice for a check-up on those goals and what could be the city’s most ambitious conservation effort – water recycling – in partnership with Micron.

“We'll often get asked from citizens, ‘Well, we're not in a crisis, Why are you doing this?’ Well, we don't want to wait for a crisis.”
Steve Burgos

Read the transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The City of Boise has, quite frankly, some ambitious goals regarding greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, the city's facilities promise to be 100% clean electricity. By 2035, city facilities should be carbon neutral; and by 2050, the goal is for the City of Boise, all of us, to be carbon neutral. The Climate Action Plan is something we have reviewed occasionally. It's always worth a checkup, but especially when things start getting… well, warm. Here's Steve Burgos. He's the director of Public Works. Mr. Burgos. Good morning.

STEVE BURGOS: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: How are we doing with those goals?

BURGOS: Well, I'm happy to report we're doing pretty well. We're making good progress. We typically tabulate our greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis, and by the time we get all the information from the different entities that have an influence on the emissions, it usually takes about a year for us to compile the information. And we found that our emissions are down 18% for city operations. So that's all the city buildings, all the vehicles, all of the employee commute emissions. For the community of Boise writ large, they're down 3%, which is pretty good news when you consider how fast Boise is growing. So that accounts for that additional growth. So we are headed in the right direction. We're on that glide path to the goals that you just mentioned. So we're excited about that. There's going to be bumps along the way. Certainly a big influence on our emissions is the amount of clean energy that we get from Idaho Power. They had a really good water year in 2021, so that helped on the hydro hydroelectric production. And so, you know, we made really good progress in 2021 and we're excited about that.

PRENTICE: Well, let's talk about water. The city had already planned on a commitment to a huge water recycling program. And then Micron happened, which is to say the Micron expansion. And that has accelerated all of this.

BURGOS: Yes. And we're really excited about it. One of the best things we think about r the Mmicron expansion in Boise is the alignment that the city and Micron have around specific things like climate action, like environmental issues. And so working with Micron, we know they're committed to recycling as much water as possible. The wastewater that comes off of their process, that's part of their long-term commitment. Corporate global commitment to climate action is trying to reduce their impact on community water supplies. So we're really excited about working with them on that. In fact, we're working with them on a pilot that's in place, a pilot project to test about five different treatment technologies to prove up the different types of technologies and how they'll get at some of the emerging constituents that we know are out there. And once we can prove up that technology that'll get designed into the recycled water facility, that'll be part of the project moving forward.

PRENTICE: And the city's own, if you will,, non-Micron water recycling, then that would come soon after?

BURGOS: That's correct. We're going to be at this point shooting our own recycled water plant to be built by 2029. And so, this pilot test in particular will help us optimize both the treatment technology, but also pricing the costs. We hope to be able to reduce some of the treatment components to still be able to meet really high water quality standards. Part of that pilot is to test out those new technologies to see exactly what we would need and how do we optimize the design for the future facility.

PRENTICE: What do you tell a layperson when we're talking about water recycling? What are we talking about here?

BURGOS: We're talking about keeping our local water supply local. And so one of the things we heard from the community during a lot of the outreach when we developed our big strategic plan for water was that folks wanted to keep water local. And so when we interpret that as an interest in this concept of recycled water. So what we're trying to do is take all of the used water that comes from homes and industry. We're starting to try to figure out how can we recycle that for another use locally. And so the intent is to keep that water local, to keep it in Boise, and to be very efficient with the water we're using. We know in the future that that water supply is going to be stretched. We have drought conditions that we think are coming and we'll often get asked from citizens, well, we're not in a crisis, Why are you doing this? Well, we don't want to wait for a crisis. We know what happens when communities wait for crisis. We see what's happening in California and Arizona. So in effect, what we're trying to do is get ahead of it, be proactive. And by recycling wastewater, in effect, we're creating a drought proof water supply because we're always going to use water. And if we can recycle that water that we use on a daily basis, we can really counter the effects of drought conditions in the future.

PRENTICE: I want to talk a bit about electrification. How are we doing with city buildings and vehicles?

BURGOS: We're doing really well.  So one might ask the question, why are we so focused on electrification? Well, if we have a goal as a city to have 100% clean electricity, then if we're 100% electric at a building or 100% electric in a car, in effect, that vehicle or that building becomes a net carbon zero emission. And so, we are actively electrifying buildings. We finished three buildings last year. I think we have four more buildings slated for this year. We've added our first Ford Transit van, all electric transit van out at the Lander Street Water Renewal Facility. We're up to, I believe, five all electric trash trucks in the in the public services fleet with the intention of adding more in the coming years. Any vehicle that we add to the fleet at the city that has a viable all electric alternative is typically the one that we will bring into the fleet. And there's a policy set for that as well. So, we're making really good progress and it's really important that we do this now so that we can leverage that, that all the 100% clean electricity goal that we have in the future. So we're making really good progress and we're excited about it. And we have a lot of support from leadership to keep working this issue hard, the electrification of buildings and the electrification of vehicles.

PRENTICE: As a consumer, where do you see the tipping point on electrification of our vehicles? Do you think it's going to be the secondary market?

BURGOS: I mean, it's coming fast. And I think the two challenges we have right now is still the price point, right? We have we have all electric vehicles are still a little bit more expensive. But we were just out at the Idaho National Lab last fall and they're the lead national lab for electrification of vehicles and how they can integrate it into networks and grids. Some of the work that's happening out there and what they shared with us on the advancement of battery technology. It's happening fast, very, very quickly. And that advancement in the battery technology not only provides longer range for vehicles, but it's causing the price point to come down. And that combination is going to be where you see people getting much more comfortable buying an all-electric vehicle when the cost both the initial investment, but also long term no fuel costs. Right. But then the range anxiety, the concern about not being able to get to where I want to go in Idaho, we all like the outdoors. We like to go to the Sawtooths or wherever we go. I think that's going to get addressed through that technology advancement in the battery range.

PRENTICE: And charging stations? Are you pretty confident that the city will be ahead of the curve on that?

BURGOS: We're working hard to with private entities. We're working with the state on some of the highway funding that's coming in to get charging networks built out on the highway system. Idaho Power's been a great partner with us on thinking through the impacts of electrification in their long-term planning. They're being very proactive on, okay, if you know, the penetration of all electric vehicles is at a certain point versus another point versus another point, they're running those scenarios to see how that would impact their planning, how that would impact their grid. And so I think that the partnerships that we're building with Inl, with Idaho Power on how do we do this quickly but smartly, right. Let's not rush to something that we're going to be left with a problem. It's much more of a positive, like, okay, how do we do this and be smart about planning it out properly? We have really good partners at the table that are helping us.

PRENTICE: I always like to begin and end with the river. How are we doing with treating the Boise River with the respect it deserves?

BURGOS: The Boise River. George You know, you probably hear it from the citizens. It is it is like hallowed ground. Um, our community looks to the Boise River as something that's one of the most special aspects of our city. We're making great progress on the water quality in the river. A couple of years ago, for the first time in a long time, we found freshwater mussels in some of the side channels off the river. That's a sign of much improved water quality. There are very sensitive species to water quality constraints, and the fact that they're starting to proliferate in the Boise River is a very positive sign. Now, we still have work to do. We have temperature issues along the river, certainly in the summertime and in the fall. So we're investing money in what we're referring to as enhanced the river projects where instead of putting chillers and cooling towers at the end of a treatment plant, which are very temporary solutions, we're trying to do restoration projects up and down the river to return side stream channels to enhance the habitat. Habitat restoration projects to help the fishery, and most importantly, to address temperature issues in the river. So taken as a whole, the the river has made incredible progress over the last several decades, and we have that very specific water quality data to demonstrate that. But there's still work to be done. And we're working specifically on key temperature issues here in the future to try to address that concern around temperature use.

PRENTICE: Steve Burgos And if he doesn't have the most challenging job in town, it's the coolest job in town. And Steve Burgos is director of Public Works. And thank you for what you do every day and for giving us some time this morning.

BURGOS: No problem. Thank you for the time. It's always great talking to you. Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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